It's certainly not unusual for the state to do whatever it can to dehumanize a person accused of a crime. Whether that be parading them around in bright orange jumpsuits, shackling them in the courtroom or treating them like animals in the jail. The goal of the state is to reduce an inmate or a pre-trial detainee to nothing but a number. Because once a person is reduced to a number, it becomes easier to treat him as something less than human.
You can add forcibly shaving a beard to that list.
Maj. Nidal Hasan is facing a court martial over accusations he murdered 13 military personnel at Ft. Hood in 2009. At the time of the alleged crime, Maj. Hasan did not have a beard. During his stay in pre-trial detention he grew one in the course of practicing the religion of his choice.
Oh, but this beard will never do. So said the judge presiding over his court martial, Col. Gregory Gross, who ordered the beard shaved off before Maj. Hasan's next court appearance.
But Col. Gross was overruled by the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, a panel made up of four civilian judges appointed by the president. The appellate panel ruled that forcing Maj. Hasan to shave his beard would violate his First Amendment right to practice the religion of his choice.
Well this was just too much for military prosecutors who could not allow a defendant to have any say-so in how he's treated while awaiting trial. What kind of precedent would that set? Next thing you know the detainees in Guantanamo might be given the power to tell the guards to stop the torture.
The prosecutors point out that active duty personnel aren't allowed to grow beards - but then the Army is trying to boot him out of the army and lock him up for life. What purpose is served by forcing him to shave his beard?
There is no rational reason. If the court is somehow distracted by Maj. Hasan's beard then it's probably a good thing they aren't out in the field where they could be distracted by lights, sounds, bombs, artillery fire and every other moving thing under the sun.
The only reason to force Maj. Hasan to shave is for the Army to show him that it's in charge. To show him that he's less than human. That's he's not entitled to practice the religion of his choice. What would happen if Maj. Hasan was Jewish and insisted on wearing a yarmulke? What if he were Christian and insisted on wearing a crucifix around his neck? Would the court have a problem with that?
If you want to break down a man, you take his individualism away from him. You take away everything that makes him different from those around him. You take away his hair. You take away his clothes. You take away his ability to choose. Then he becomes putty in your hands. It's the type of mind control and brainwashing the military has practiced for years.
It's dehumanizing. And, in the case of Maj. Hasan, it's wrong.